February 3, 2014

The Danger of Development

When I tell other urban development folks that I don't care about resilience or empowerment, they tend to look at me like I'm an idiot.  How can resilience be bad?  Empowerment is good!  And yes - those things are true.  However, in my work I argue that we should never start with the idea, we should start with the people.

Everywhere I work, the process is similar because it starts with building real human relationships.  I can work in Detroit or Mogadishu or the Bahamas because I go in with no assumptions or expectations.  I only ask that I can spend time with people, observe them, and learn from them.  The more people I meet, the more relationships I can create, and the better I can offer something of value.  Maybe my proposal will fall into the domain of resilience, maybe not, it doesn't actually matter.  I've also written extensively about this in the article, Urban Planning Trends are Bad Medicine.

Unfortunately, this approach to "Development" with a capital "D" is not universal.  Many of my peers embrace the certainty of formulas and answers, and are more than happy to debate endlessly on the works of Sachs vs. Easterly.  But I suspect those rockstars of international development would agree with me to say the debate misses the point.

Today a friend of mine shared this fantastic video on the perils of international development.  It is funny but it is also sad because these things do happen.  I have personally witnessed such tragedies occur, and even wrote about one such incident in the article Deep Water in a Geography of Conflict.  I strongly recommend the video below, if it doesn't load in your browser, feel free to visit the source at http://www.survivalinternational.org/thereyougo.